As Simon Dunmore tells us how great his relationship with Ministry of Sound is these days, a reminder things weren’t always so amicable in the early days…

Let me start this post by emphasising I do have a certain amount of respect for Defected boss Simon Dunmore. Yes, I might well have some fun at his expense on this blog, but his record label is still here. Most of the house labels around in 1999, when Defected was set up, have long been dead and buried.

And it appears Dunmore is in a nostalgic mood today – perhaps inspired by the Dance For Stevie event this coming weekend. He’s tweeting about his label’s long standing relationship with Ministry of Sound…

But things weren’t always this rosy. Defected came about because of changes within the dance music world. In 1998, Ministry of Sound was doing incredibly well and the majors weren’t best pleased. Their response was to stop Ministry from getting access to almost their entire repertoire for their highly successful compilations.

Ministry of Sound responded to this by trying to set up some other labels. They offered Dunmore £200,000 to set up his own record label. Under the deal, Ministry would do certain back office jobs and Defected would sign and licence records – these tracks would be given prominence on Ministry’s compilations.

The label launched early in 1999. Releases by Defected that year came from the likes of Soulsearcher, Capriccio, Paul Johnson, Masters At Work, Powerhouse and ATFC. But behind the scenes, things were chaotic. Don’t take my word for it – take it from Simon Dunmore himself.

In an interview with the London Evening Standard in 2013, he said “I hadn’t run a label before so getting to learn about leases and company house returns and tax implications, dealing with staff and human resources was all entirely alien to me. For the first two or three years we made some quite big mistakes – not big enough to kill us, but big enough.”.

Dunmore also mentions that despite having worked at EMI sublabel Cooltempo and Polygram outfit AM:PM for nearly ten years before, he wasn’t aware of royalty collectors MCPS. However, they’d heard of him – and they called him in for a meeting to ask why he hadn’t paid some £140,000 worth of royalties.

Reading between the lines of this interview – and several others where he speaks about Defected’s early years – it appears the relationship between him and Ministry of Sound deteriorated quickly, and I suspect part of it was because they expected Dunmore would have been more aware of the business side than he was. I also suspected they thought they would have more control over Dunmore than they actually had.

Defected and Ministry of Sound split officially in 2001, with Defected being in debt to the tune of £500,000. Curiously however, Defected’s tunes continued to feature heavily on Ministry’s compilations even after the breakup. But ultimately, the two were drawn closer together as their labels suffered during the digital age and they had to rely more on the events side of their businesses.

And now, they’re best buddies. Who said romance was dead, eh?

As Ministry of Sound recover after their 30th birthday party last weekend, a reminder that some things have changed – and probably for the better…

It would be churlish of me not to start this post by acknowledging that the Ministry Of Sound nightclub getting to their 30th birthday is an incredible achievement. For them to survive in London – a city which is frankly quite a hostile environment to run a club in – for that length of time is almost unheard of, and I wish the Ministry well going forward.

These days, Ministry of Sound’s promotional material is all very professional. Let’s be honest – it has to be. In this social media driven age, there’s simply no choice about it. Everything has to be eye-catching for the right reasons. But back in the very early days of Ministry, it was a different world.

Nights out weren’t advertised with shiny graphics on the likes of Instagram back in the early 1990s. Advertising appeared in newspapers and magazines, but many of those contained restrictions on what exactly could be included. Posters for events had fewer constraints – such as this poster for a night, believed to be held on Saturday 16th September 1995…

Let’s ignore the fact the wretched Derrick May is listed here. And let’s even ignore the naked lady. That bright pink text against the background makes the poster a crime against design. I can’t see Ministry using that design in their posters today…

What did they think they were going to, a riot? Unearthed government report from 1998 details amnesty box scheme at Ministry of Sound – and wait until you see what one person left in it!

It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet. I was searching for something related to a different story and I came across an old report from the Police Research Group. It’s part of the UK Home Office and was published in 1998. The report is called “Clubs, Drugs And Doormen”.

It’s intriguing reading about the old motto “control the doors, control the floors”. In other words, if you have control over who’s coming in, you can also control what happens once they’re inside. I touched on this subject the other day.

The report has an astonishing section called “Good Practice – The Ministry of Sound, London”. In it, the report talks about what’s effectively an amnesty box. If you have something on you that you know you shouldn’t, and you’d like to get rid of it without getting into trouble, you stick it in the box. Here is that section of the report…

I kid you not. Someone left a canister of tear gas in it. Did someone plan to head to Drumcree but end up taking a wrong turn? Your guess is as good as mine…

Hang on, who was doing what job here? Lord Bethell says he was Ministry of Sound’s MD in the 1990s – but so does the company’s second in command…

These are interesting times if your name is Lord Bethell, and not in a good way. I thought I’d add a little bit to his troubles by referencing a speech he did a few months ago, where he claimed to be an innovator before innovation was innovated. Or something like that.

However, I spoke to a friend within the industry last night and he wasn’t entirely convinced by some of what I’d written. So I took a look at the LinkedIn profile of Lord James Nicholas Bethell, where it says he was Ministry of Sound’s managing director between 1993 and 2001.

And now here’s the LinkedIn profile for Hector Dewar, the current Chief Operating Officer at Ministry of Sound. Take a look what’s in his CV…

Hang on a minute! Bethell claims he was doing the job from January 1993 to February 2001. Dewar claims he was doing the job from April 1992 to May 2002. So what’s going on here?

Well, Bethell’s recollection appears to be wrong, for starters. According to this Independent article from November 2001, he had “recently departed” and was described as “James Palumbo’s right hand man”. But this article claims Hector Dewar left Ministry of Sound in November 2001 – and they describe him as the chief operating officer.

Further, I have come across a court judgement of a case heard in November 2001. The case was brought by Virgin Records against Ministry of Sound, who believed they had no right to trademark various phrases ending in “Nation” – Dance Nation, Club Nation, Trance Nation and so on.

In these documents, point 9 states “[Ministry’s evidence] consists principally of statutory declarations dated 14 May 1999 by Hector Dewar. Mr Dewar explains that he is a Director of Ministry of Sound Recordings Limited having held this position since January 1997”.

Both men have been contacted to see if this mystery can be cleared up. But according to The Accountancy Partnership, companies normally only have one managing director at a time. Perhaps it’s just that all those late nights in the club have simply made their memories a little hazy…

Is time playing with Lord Bethell’s memory? Beleaguered ex-Ministry MD sees himself as an innovator – but does his own record stand up to scrutiny?

There have been lots of stories in the press over the past week about Lord James Bethell of Romford. Many are to do with Bethell giving a parliamentary pass to former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s mistress, despite the fact she never worked for him. Exactly why he did this remains unexplained at present.

Perhaps he thought he was being innovative. Bethell is a fan of the concept and frequently likes to talk about innovative he is. Here’s an example from a speech he delivered on March 3rd this year. In it, he spends some time discussing his days at Ministry of Sound, where he was managing director between 1993 and 2001.

He describes Ministry of Sound as “a start-up before the words start-up were even invented”. He says they “had a great data business before Facebook had been invented” and he mentions “we were live to the global internet directly from the club each weekend, pioneers of internet broadcasting”.

Ah, I remember those days. Ministry of Sound’s website was a painfully slow experience even by the standards of the time. And as for Ministry of Sound Radio – that’s what got the then James Bethell sacked from the company, alongside 40 other members of staff in October 2001. Funny how this fact didn’t make the final speech, isn’t it?

Getting his tin ears on further, he says of their compilation business “When we launched our first album, it was enough to stick the famous portcullis club logo on the front cover to top the charts. There were loads of clubs… so the battle was for the big-name DJs… they soon oversold themselves, and the competition came for tracks. The Ministry of Sound thrived because we were ahead of each consumer twist”.

Really? Until Clubbers Guide to 2001, the compilations were mixed by a well-known DJ – and often not particularly well either. And as for tracks, many of the bigger records of the time didn’t appear on their mixes, mostly because other labels imposed licensing restrictions.

Boy George mixes might well have been fun and enjoyable, but the mixing was nothing special and the tracks weren’t revolutionary. Sell by the bucket load, they did. Innovate? That’s more open to discussion…

Did a reported £2million deal with Fischerspooner nearly bring down Ministry of Sound? The story of how the label snatched victory from the jaws of defeat…

Last Thursday, I published an article about CamelPhat’s past life within a record label that Ministry of Sound worked with at a time when the Ministry was desperate to trim costs.

Turns out there’s a lot more to this story. To fully understand this, we have to go back to the late 1990s – Ministry were expanding fast within the UK and had ambitions to get even bigger. There was talk of trying to crack America – and then the millennium happened.

Two things. One was the fact that many superclubs faced a lean start to 2000 after gambling big on New Year’s Eve 1999. They’d paid over the top for DJs and ticket sales often failed to cover the costs of the evening. Ministry was not immune to this.

However, larger problems were to follow. Sales of house and trance started to decline from around 2001, so Ministry’s record label needed to start thinking differently. In 2002, they decided to sign Fischerspooner to the label – an electroclash duo formed in Chicago in 1998. Some reports at the time claim Ministry paid over £2million for the privilege.

Fischerspooner themselves won’t say how much they were paid, but stated in an interview with Red Bull that Ministry “made a ridiculous offer that was just stupid not to take”. In the same interview, they also admit they didn’t like Ministry of Sound, considering the label to be “tacky”.

Anyway, Ministry’s sales figures for Fischerspooner were terrible. The label had gambled big and lost – they were in serious trouble. Indeed, two sources confirmed to me that Ministry considered stopping all signings to the label in the period afterwards.

Amidst all this, a rival label had signed a deal with Universal and started releasing the Clubland compilations. All Around The World Records, based in Blackburn, had entered the compilation business. The deal was so big that, with Ministry’s troubles, it could have sank the entire company.

They needed a solution – and their saviours came along from Boss Records in Liverpool. The deal was simple, if not skewed heavily in Ministry’s favour. Boss would sign the records, promote them and see how they did through their outlets, mostly in the north west of England. If they were doing well, Ministry would then licence those records for compilations and for a wider release.

They established similar deals with several labels, but Boss was the largest. It ran until 2007, when Boss signed a deal to supply rival All Around The World Records. By then however, Ministry were in far better health and no longer so concerned about their rival.

In the end, however, Ministry kept signing records. Their most successful came from “Happiness” by Tomcraft, which helped make 2003 a turnaround year for the company. A certain controversy around the video for Eric Prydz “Call On Me” helped too…

Does the world REALLY need more remixes of “Insomnia”? According to Maceo Plex and Ministry of Sound, it apparently does

Faithless originally made “Insomnia” back in 1994. And according to Sister Bliss, the song was originally signed to Island Records. However, they used a buyback clause in the contract to get it back after the label essentially admitted they couldn’t work out what to do with it – hence its release on Cheeky the following year.

Over the years, it’s been remixed by DJ Quicksilver, De Donatis, Armand Van Helden, Sasha and countess times unofficially. Special kudos goes to Armand’s European Vacation mix, which has a clever section at 2:54 that teases you before those notorious chords come in.

Anyway, there’s quite a few mixes to choose from already. So we don’t need more, right? In this age where dance music is far too willing to rinse old tunes, wrong! Ministry of Sound have decided to release two remixes that plague rave favourite Maceo Plex made unofficially for his sets a few years back.

Are they any good? The full versions aren’t available yet, but from the previews I heard on Beatport… they’re okay but I largely just feel indifferent. Just not necessary.

Ministry’s got no money? Dunno about that!

They just can’t win, can they? In the eyes of the average Internet critic, everything is always wrong. Even if that means contradicting statements they’ve made previously.

I’ve written recently about how the festivals and such seem to think that the possible return of nightclubs is the equivalent of pressing play to resume watching something that’s been on pause for the past 12 months.

The critics – and I’m amongst them – say that it’s not acceptable to go back to the old practice of booking the most expensive name you can possibly find. If that means paying top dollar to fly someone in and the rest, it seems to be the done thing.

It’s a system where new talent is being suffocated. The scene is slowly committing suicide through this mad practice, and it needs to find a balance again. The old farts I referred to recently will not live forever!

Now that Ministry of Sound are trying precisely that? The trolls are inevitably saying they’re only doing it because they haven’t got any money. Given that Ministry of Sound is part of Sony Music these days, I suspect that isn’t true.

Either way, you can’t have it both ways. Either you want dance music to try something different on its return, or you don’t.